Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Faith Works 3-15-08
Jeff Gill

Don’t Skip the Middle Part

“Unseen heavenly storehouses laden with snow . . .”

That’s a line easily brought to mind these days, a piece of Chris Tomlin’s song “Indescribable.” The image is directly, like so much of contemporary Christian music, from the Bible, out of the Book of Job.

In the final climactic revelation of God from the whirlwind to Job himself, the string of questions with which God answers Job’s question about the meaning of human suffering includes “Have you entered the storehouses of the snow?” (Job 38: 22, NIV)

Many of us have read the start and finish of Job’s tale, set among “the writings,” the “Ketuvim” right before Psalms and Proverbs. 42 chapters long, even those who say they know the story likely only have read chapters 1 and 2, and skipped to 38 through the concluding and very short close in chapter 42.

What about chapters 3 through 37?

Holy Week, which begins with Palm Sunday tomorrow, would be a good time to read those pages hidden in plain sight. Just as Christians can tend to want to jump from the high place of Jesus’ triumphal procession into Jerusalem, and kids waving greenie things in church, right to Easter and resurrection and kids hunting eggs, we skip from chapter 2 to 38, or even straight to 42.

The in-between, though, is where we live most of the time, and what holds Holy Week together in the Christian narrative. And the Book of Job wouldn’t have the lasting impact it does without the three friends, and the angry young man (yes, the original angry young man).

For an angry young man, we have Elihu, who steps in about chapter 32, having listened courteously to his elders, the three friends of Job named Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar (you can see why these names didn’t catch on like Benjamin, Levi, and Nathan did).

They each have tried to explain to Job why he must have deserved his suffering in some way, and dealt kindly with his response to each one, with Job growing more passionate in his confidence in God’s justice, but his equal certainty that the pain and misery he is in can have nothing to do with his actions or intentions.

Elihu’s tirade is interesting because he is specifically described as angry at Job for not accepting responsibility, and the older men for not being able to defend and maintain God’s innocence as to this injustice (which we know, from chapters 1 & 2, is actually very much in question – God does specifically allow this to happen, through no fault of Job’s).

When I read the discourses of Eliphaz and Bildad and Zophar and Elihu, I hear things I’ve said myself, about social ills, civic problems, personal situations, even in response to pain and suffering. And when I hear in my mind’s amphitheater the words of Job, sitting on his dunghill, covered with boils, his tongue thick and dry, struggling to make clear his faith and confidence in an ultimate justice which he cannot account for, I hear words I’ve said myself, in private prayer, and occasionally in argument with others.

The “Why” of cruelty and senseless accidents does not go away in the light of eternity. Job affirms, in one of the best known passages plucked out of this little known stretch of Scripture, “For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at last he will stand upon the earth, and after my skin has been thus destroyed, then from my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see on my side, and my eyes shall behold, and not another. My heart faints within me!” (19: 25-27 RSV)

This is seen by many as a powerful witness to Jesus Christ, a prophecy of what the human condition cries out for in the heart of life, and a description of what God promises to provide.

But you don’t, I maintain, get the full force of this statement of faith without immersing yourself in the debate that goes before, to which these words are a direct, connected response.

Just as you can’t really taste the joy of Easter if you skip from palm branches to chocolate eggs. Take the journey, step by step, and take Job along with you.

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; tell him the story of your journey at

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